POP. After seven years of voluntary seclusion and solitary song-writing, Paddy McAloon and his cohorts release a new album seamlessly connected to their past. Prefab Sprout, seven years hidden away in Andromeda Heights.
Three years ago, during the first gleams of the Britpop’s emergene, the English press were worried about the mysterious disappearance of some of the big names of the local scene. There had been no news of Lee Maver, the gifted writer of the La’s of Liverpool, hidden away in his Merseyside base since the beginning of the 1990s. And radio silence from Paddy McAloon, the sugar-coated despot of Prefab Sprout who, having attached his songs to demented rhythms since 1985 had been lost to contact from 1990. It seems the enigmatic Mayers remains complete and enthusiastic. He has plenty of songs somewhere, but according to those close to him, the La’s guitarist is never satisfied with them, he reworks and corrects them and is terrified of making them public. As far as Paddy McAloon goes, he’s written “nearly 120 songs” in seven years. And had he not had a cold sweat in 1995, he would still listening to them on his own in his country home studio.
“I was in the process of losing myself once and for all,” he concedes, “I never feel as good as when I’m in the process of writing something. It’s a compulsion, it creates a worrying barrier between the world and myself, but I’m not able to live any other way. So I said to myself I was going to end up imploding, I had a queue of all these songs which I thought worked well, but it seemed they were destined never to be heard by the public. I couldn’t let anyone listen to them. Outside my own head they had only a virtual existence. A few bits of melody on tapes here and there.” He ended up putting twelve of these songs together for Andromeda Heights, an album that reinstalls his melodic savoir-faire at the top of the English charts and sets his stall out as much next to the great tunes from the musicals as to to the breaths of fresh air from the new wave of Neo-Beatles he claims to be almost completely ignorant of.
Since his first attempts in 1982, Paddy McAloon openly dreamed of being the Brian Wilson of Newcastle. So it was that he didn’t make things easy the day he finally decided to record a new album. This son of a petrol station owner from County Durham got it into his head he had to build his own studio at his house where he’d have complete control. From the demo’s to the piano chords. To reduce a little the financial abyss his exalted perfectionism was leading him into (six months in the studio at nearly 10 thousand francs a day for Jordan, the last album to date), and also to push the concept of independence to its logical extreme. During his seven years of retreat, Paddy McAloon let very little information out regarding the state of his work. The members of Prefab Sprout, Martin his brother and Wendy his ex girlfriend were carefully kept away and had to find day jobs (teaching the craft of the rock musician for him, voice therapy for her). They weren’t called upon for the making of the demo’s which lasted nearly six months: “I don’t involve them more than that. They feel a bit frustrated because they have ideas, but they understand. They know I’m not very open to collaboration, I know what I need for my songs. This time it was a little stranger than usual because I produced everything myself, I was stressed and I hadn’t time to be nice. It didn’t always go without bad feeling but it’s never simple to work as part of a family.” As well as the studio where he meticulously organised his pop autocracy, Paddy McAloon put together for Andromeda heights his own instruments. The ‘Lunaphone’ for example, a home made effects box of which he talks with the delight of a child. He conceived it with a professor of Durham University, loosely inspired by a toy used by Brian Wilson for Good Vibrations. “My studio, my songs, my instruments, I was consumed by a desire to give a singular quality to my record, and I wanted to try to build an entire world around the songs. It was always that that attracted me in artists I admire, and I wanted those who listened to my songs to have the same feeling. Anyway my records have no other use. They make people leave parties and stand out awkwardly if you play them over dinner.” The DIY side of the record didn’t prevent Paddy McAloon from taking on the mantle of inexhaustable ambition and to make Andromeda Heights sound like a Hollywood blockbuster. “Above all I didn’t want it to sound like a home made record, but it’s all smoke and mirrors.. The string sections for example come from a CD-Rom created by Miroslave Vitous, the Weather Report bassist, with the Prague Philharmonic Orchestra. It cost a lot but I didn’t have to go and work with an orchestra. Everything was done on my computer. I often got lost on the way, but at least I was the only witness to my confusion.”
Andromeda Heights might have been recorded the year after Jordan. It maintains the style and form of Prefab Sprout and doesn’t introduce the slightest break in the writing of luxuriant, romantic, songs. Some of the songs were written at the end of the 1980s anyway. This comeback record can indeed be considered to be a calling card, a transition album. In fact since 1992 Paddy McAloon had passed most of his time on a crazy project. The idea had come to him from his record company the day he’d presented the demos of “Let’s Change the World with Music”, the album he had wanted to make at the beginning of the 1990s. “You have always a mass of ideas,” his artistic director said to him, “Why not concentrate on one song and develop it?” Paddy McAloon therefore got it into his head they were asking him to write one song carrying inside it all the others like an essay in universal melody. He girded his loins to meet the challenge and harnessed himself to a project telling the history of the universe, from Adam and Eve to the first man on the Moon. “When they asked me that, they probably imagined that was going to disappear forever,” he smiles. “I was so excited by the project that I thought I’d stop everything else. It was my life’s work. But I had to reason with myself. I needed to find resources to continue to work.” So on a corner of a table he wrote a few choruses for Cher, Kylie Minogue, and a popular singer, Jimmy Nail, who in selling more than a million copies of their work, allowed him to keep his head above water. “I shared it all with the other Prefab Sprout members so they understood our story wasn’t ending there.”
The history of the world now comprises about thirty songs. Paddy McAloon has put it aside to record Andromeda Heights, but says he’s ready to plunge back in: “I needed to breathe, I was overrun by the project and its ramifications. I want to pick it back up, but I’m not at the end of my labours, I already have in mind a film that can might come with it and I can only imagine very sophisticated arrangements. It’s going to take years.”